Close Encounters with Calypso

Close Encounters with Calypso 2

Close Encounters with Calypso 2, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

In Greek mythology, Calypso was a water nymph. In ancient Greek, calypso (Καλυψώ) was a form of the verb “to conceal” (or “to hide”) meaning “I will conceal.” Calypso kept Odysseus imprisoned for seven years on an ocean island; it’s easy to read Homer to take this as a kind of sexual slavery, and according to some accounts (e.g., Hesiod) they had two children together. Odysseus, of course, eventually returned to his Penelope.

The elusive and tiny flower that bears a name with all this mythological freight, and takes me back to my high school classical studies, is of course the Calypso orchid, Calypso bulbosa, commonly called a Fairy Slipper. It’s found on the forest floor on the upper slopes of Mount Tamalpais this time of year (the two shown in this story were photographed along the Cataract Trail). The flower is hard to see, most often growing among detritus of the forest floor. It’s not until you examine it carefully and up very close that you see the wonderful colors, transparency, and shapes.

Up close and personal, the Calypso orchid looks to me more like an ocean critter than something found near the earth. Perhaps that’s the reason for the Calypso name.

Whatever the reason for the name, it was wonderful for me to take off to the mountain slopes after dropping the kids off at school yesterday. With a heavy pack and two tripods (the Low Pod was great for working with these close-to-the-ground flowers), I hiked down to Cataract Falls and back under a day of variable but wonderful skies. I enjoyed spending an hour on my belly in the dirt during a close encounter with a patch of Calypso orchids, with some of the results shown here, then packed up my gear and headed to pick up the kids.

Close Encounters with Calypso

View this image larger.

[Both photos: Nikon D300, 200mm f/4 macro lens (300mm in 35mm terms), 36mm extension tube, +4 diopter close-up filter, 1 second at f/40 and ISO 400, tripod mounted using a Kirk Low Pod.]

Related story: Calypso Orchid.

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